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Archive for the ‘Assessment’ Category

I hate grading.  No, not the actually giving of feedback on student work. I hate those numerical distortions of what that work actually means. The reasons we are stuck with grading are myriad.

  • Parents expect them (is there any way my child can get this high enough to at least be a B?).
  • Kids obsess over them (how much late work do I need to turn in to get at least to a 70?)
  • The press obsesses over them (this year’s valedictorian beat out the rest of the pack by less than 0.1 point)
  • Colleges look at them (what was your overall GPA?)
  • Grading is easier because of them (you got a 75 out of 100 on this assignment)

But what do they mean exactly?  Take a look at this chart:

This is a list of 10 grades for a teacher grade book. They are totally arbitrary in that they don’t represent any particular grade book.  On the left, the teacher decides that every missing assignment deserves a zero. On the right, the teacher feels that is too harsh and gives missing assignments a 50 in order to keep the kid from giving up.

In one class, the student receives a 45 average.  In the other, a 70.  The kid did exactly the same work. Even extra credit for the teacher on the left (don’t get me started on extra credit) won’t bring this grade up to passing. Both teachers gave a significant failing grade to missing work.

Or, take the tale of the teacher who gives 10 grades per grading period compared to the one who gives 25. Averages begin to change quickly. Poor work is penalized less when surrounded by more helpful grades.

Even emojis work better as feedback than arbitrary numbers on a page.

The Thumbs Up – I really like what you did here. It met the basic requirements of what we were looking for and is considered along the line of average work.  Good job!

The Heart – You went above and beyond on this assignment. You not only covered all the basics as required, but you added a lot of things that really made your work stand out. Keep it up!

The Laughing Face – I am absolutely giddy with delight over this work. It is one of the best I’ve ever seen. I don’t give out laughing faces lightly.  Well done!

The Surprised Face – Your work was really good. I’m happy to see that you included some elements I hadn’t thought about while reading it. I liked it so much, I’m going to change the way I look at this assignment in the future. I’m going to add some of your elements to my expectations. Way to go!

The Sad Face – I truly wish you had worked just a little harder on this one. It was close, but it did not meet all the expectations we laid out in the rubric for this work. I’d love it if you would try again. After we go over some exemplary work product in class, see if you can figure out where you went wrong and submit it again after you edit it. If you need help, don’t hesitate to ask me. Stay on it!

The Angry Face – This didn’t even come close to our expectations. In fact, you didn’t cover the material expected at all. I cannot accept this in it’s current state. Please do a complete re-working of your submission. Editing won’t help it. Stay Focused!

What do you think? What are you using that’s better than grades?

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Mar-19-2017

Rethinking Questions

Posted by Tim under Assessment, Personalized Learning

This past week I was struck with an idea about questions in the classroom.  It isn’t new. I’ve come across it before. But for some reason it resonated with me.

One of the ways teachers evaluate learning is by asking questions. It is important enough that it is even one our teacher evaluation rubric. Asking questions that require deeper and deeper understanding of the subject to answer adequately is the goal. As a teacher evaluator, questioning is something that jumps out at me during a lesson. I want to see how kids respond.  All kids.  Not just the select few that are eager to please.

And so, this idea of questioning began to swirl around a bit.  I’ll use math as an example because it is probably easiest to make my point, but the idea can be applied to all subjects.

In math, one of the first things we do is easy types of problems.  We need kids to understand how numbers work. Like sight words for reading, some of the simplest problems are the place to start.

Sally, what is 2+2?

In this case, there is one answer. I remember tons of worksheets like this when I was a kid. Those timed 1-minute and 2-minute math drills were fun (although I don’t know what they assessed exactly). I was always competing to be the first one done.  Missing 3 or 10 out of 100 wasn’t of any concern for me. Being second was.

But this is the typical standardized test question that can easily be graded by bubbling something in, or choosing a number on a website. While handy, it is a very weak question. The answer is 4. The answer is always 4 (when working in base 10 anyway). Anything other than 4 is wrong. Try it again.

But what if we asked the question in a way that allows for an infinitude of answers?

Sally, what is 4?

Now the answer could be 2+2, or 10-6, or (2×10)-16. Kids now have the freedom to express themselves in ways much larger than 4. Just asking this question isn’t enough, however. We need to go deeper.

We need to personalize the questions.

Sally, why did you choose that way to express 4?

This is where we can truly begin to understand a child’s mathematical thinking. We can see if they are thinking in more complex math thoughts. And we can get an understanding of where to take them next.

Hint: It will be different for every child.

Have you considered the way you ask the questions in your classroom? What would happen if you started rethinking questions?

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BF Skinner wrote the book, literally, on operant conditioning.  And while there are many reasons not to offer extrinsic rewards in an education environment (students should want to learn for the sake of learning, right?), there are ways in which we can utilize the approach in, perhaps, a productive manner.

RewardsIn his interview on the Curious Minds podcast, Nir Eyal mentioned this idea of random rewards as it relates to marketing and creating habits among buyers or app users.

In an early study on operant conditioning a chicken was placed in an environment with a target on which to peck.  When the chicken pecked on the target, a food pellet dropped out.  Whenever the chicken was hungry, it pecked.  When it was no longer hungry, it stopped.

Then they changed the conditions.  Now when the chicken pecked on the target, the food pellets were dispersed randomly.  Sometimes they got a food pellet.  Other times they did not.  There was no order to the dispersement.  It wasn’t every 10th peck, or every 3rd.  It was random.

The result?  The chickens who received random rewards pecked more times on the target.  They worked harder for the reward.

When you tie this to the IKEA Effect mentioned in my last post, you get a very powerful way to create a habit of work.  We are more satisfied with things we make ourselves (IKEA Effect), and with random rewards we will work harder.  Could it be that we would be more satisfied as well?

Random Rewards does not equate random consequences.  If a student misbehaves in class, the behavior needs to be addressed quickly, fairly, and consistently in order to bring order back to the possible chaos.

But rewards.  That’s a different story.

Recently, in a faculty meeting at my school we had this discussion.  Some teachers felt that they needed to grade everything they assign.  Without a grade, the student would not be “conditioned” (my word, not theirs) to do the work.  They would let it slide.  Other teachers felt this was just making the burden too hard on the teacher.  Not everything, they argued, needed to be graded.

So, what if we did Random Rewards for grades?  What if they never knew which assignment would receive a grade?  What if grade book input happened in a totally random fashion?  I’m assuming here, of course, that the assignments would be equal in value, so you wouldn’t randomly choose a 20 point quiz over a 100 point test.

What if we did Random Rewards for the bulletin board?  Totally random.  Not just the best work.  Not everyone’s work.  Draw a circle on the floor, throw the assignments in the air, and put up only the ones that fall inside the circle.  Or use a random number table.  Would students be more apt to do better work knowing that, at some point, what they turn in will be seen by the entire class?  Or, perhaps, by the world if your bulletin board is a class blog?

Are there other ways the Law of Random Rewards could benefit your students?  Your class?  Your own sanity?

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There are many educational phrases of which I am now extremely and overly tired.  “Data Driven” is definitely one of them.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am a data kind of guy.  I love looking at big, broad brush stroke pictures of data and look at emerging patterns, making assumptions, trying new things, analyzing the end results, tweaking (sometimes scrapping) plans for improvement.  And for that we need data.

But then the questions comes down to, “What data?”

I’m trying to put the finishing touches on a presentation I’m giving in four days at the Midlands Tech Summit called “From Data Driven to Data Informed.”  I know what I want to say.  What I need to say.  It isn’t that I’m lost for words (I rarely am when it comes to opinions about education).

But Data Driven has long passed the “catch phrase” stage.  It is now embedded in the education culture.  It has been tossed around so long, that to question its validity, to question its use, to offer a dissenting opinion is an anathema.  People are labeled as rebels.  As the enemy at times.

The problem with Data Driven is that it is an insatiable monster.  It is the largest black hole of educational space.  It has the ability to suck everything else into its cavernous mouth.  Everything is data and data is everything.  And we collect it, in true research fashion, there is always more to collect.

And maybe this is the problem.  Perhaps we are conducting our look at data like a research project.  I  nearly finished my dissertation for a PhD in Assessment and Evaluation.  I know that’s meaningless.  “Nearly” only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades as the saying goes.  But I learned this one thing in the process.  Research does not provide us answers.  It provides us data that informs ever deeper questions for more research.

And Data Driven has done just that to/for education.  We used to test 4th, 8th, and 11th grades as “benchmark grades” to see the trajectory of student learning.  But then we started testing grades 3 to 12 because we needed to see more data points between those original three grades.  Then we added specific testing for reading levels.  More testing for interventions.  More benchmarks to show us probabilities of how students would perform on the “real” benchmarks. Then we decided we needed to add grades K-2 into the mix.

If we’re not careful we’ll soon be to the point of assessing in utero.

Assessment is good.  Data is good.  Data Driven?  I’m no longer a believer.

As educators we should have always been, are, and should always be student driven.  Oh, I know the arguments.  We need data for that.  Perhaps.  To a degree.  But you know what we need more than data?

Relationships.

Students need to know that we care about them as individuals and not data points.  We need to be a safe haven in their tumultuous growing up years.  We need to work alongside parents and guardians (and yes, the village) in making sure that each student has an opportunity to become who they were born to be.

I have failed at this in so many ways with my own children when they were growing up.  All three of them have distinctly different personalities.  All three are driven by different things. All three want to head into life in very different directions.  And I made the honest (?) mistake of trying to get them all to go down the same road.  To take the same path toward adulthood.

Nothing has bothered me more as a parent than my failure to understand the individuality of my children.  A mistake I am trying to change with them as adults, and with their own children.  I have five wonderful grand children.  Each with his/her own distinct personality and ways of being in the world.

And nothing has bothered me more as an educator than my failure to understand the individuality of my students when I started teaching.  A mistake I am trying to change as an administrator.

Sometimes it is as easy as changing my own personal paradigm from “I teach English” to “I teach children.”

Yes, I need to be data informed.  I need valid, reliable spot checks of progress.  Its like missing the turn called out to me from my Google Maps app.  The app looks at the data and recalculates a path that will put me back on the right track.  But you know what else that app does?  It gives me at least 3 different paths to get to my destination.

And I have the power to choose.

Ultimately, that’s the most powerful power we have.

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Apr-13-2014

The Testing Autopsy

Posted by Tim under Assessment

I love old Law and Order episodes best.  While there are many great episodes throughout all the years it was filming, those first few episodes are still my favorites.  So, imagine my surprise when I ran across an early episode I had never seen before.  I was doubly surprised by this courtroom exchange between the prosecutor (P) and the medical examiner (ME):

P: Dr., were you able to determine the cause of death?

ME: Yes. The victim was killed by a knife.

P: Were you able to determine the kind of knife used?

ME: Yes.

P: Would you describe the knife to the courtroom?

ME: No.

P: <pause – shocked expression> I’m sorry.  Did you say you will not describe the knife to the courtroom?

ME: That is correct.

P: Would you care to explain why you will not do so?

ME: Certainly.  You see, as a medical examiner I am able to determine with great accuracy the knife blade used, the size of the blade, its shape, even the handle in most cases.  But I am not at liberty to share that information with the public, much less the jury, because we don’t want other people to have access to information about this knife in case they try to copy it or otherwise infringe on its individual attributes.

P: Your Honor, would you please instruct the witness to respond to my question?

Judge: Dr., you are under oath.  I’m afraid you will have to comply.

ME: I think not, your honor.  I don’t mean to be disrespectful in any way.  But it is enough to know that death was caused by a knife.  The exact type of knife is irrelevant to the lay person.  The length of blade, the type of cut, and even where the cut was placed are all privileged information.  Consider them data points collected by my office.  If other people had access to the information we are collecting, how it was collected, and even what we were doing with it, then the data is no longer reliable.

Yeah, OK, you know I made that up.  Its silly, right?  Stupid even?

For information to have any value at all, you have to be able to look at it in context, examine it closely, and see if your hypothesis is correct.

But standardized testing is done much the same way as the conversation above.

Students are given a test at the end of the year.  Teachers are instructed to not look at the test.  As a result, when we get our information back, we find out what happened with a student we will (most of the time) never see again, but we don’t know the whys or the hows or the what ifs.  Its just a number.

And that number does little to help us with the kids coming into our classes next year.

Formative assessments on the other hand, offer great insight into how a class, or an individual student, is doing during instructional time while we have an opportunity to adjust, modify, reteach, remediate, and reassess.  I’m used to using Discovery Education Assessment, but there are others out there that do similar things.

After the assessments are over, I can look at each question.  I can see what it was asking.  I can compare that to how a student answered the question and gain great insight into what was going on in the students’ minds a the time.  We can have a discussion about what would have changed if they had approached the question differently.  We can try other practice questions.

Formative assessments of this type not only tell me how kids are doing on standards I’ve taught, but they also assess what students know about standards I haven’t taught.  As a result, I have time plan and prepare before we get to a section of material.  Maybe the entire class did well enough that I just need to spend two days instead of the five I had set aside.  Or perhaps I need to make adjustments because I realize there is a specific section I need to cover more slowly.

If I’m a juror in a murder trial, I want to know what kind of knife was used, how prevalent is that knife in society, where can it be bought, whose fingerprints were on it, where was it found, or perhaps out of the multiple stab wounds, which was the one that actually caused death.  But I don’t want someone to just tell me “it was a knife.”

The testing autopsy is no different.  Give me data I can use.  Give me data I can use now.  Give me data I can use with the kids I’m teaching today.

Perhaps collecting data on student knowledge isn’t the problem.  Perhaps the problem is that we are collecting nearly useless information by performing the wrong autopsy.

 

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Feb-17-2014

Like or Not Like… That Is The Question

Posted by Tim under Assessment

I study assessment. Yes, I pursued a failed PhD in Assessment and Evaluation, but it doesn’t take a doctorate to figure out a few things about effective and ineffective assessment.

When I was in the English classroom, my kids did a little writing from time to time. They wrote. I read. They edited. I re-read. I graded. They griped. And ultimately papers were filed in trash cans as the kids walked out of the classroom.

We were just on the cusp of an interactive web at that time. Technology integration was moving handouts to PowerPoint slides. A far cry from what is available now.

Just a few days ago I put together my first SnapGuide tutorial on making a healthy breakfast burrito. Yeah. Rocket science, right?

I could have written a 5 paragraph essay that would be read by my teacher. I could have sent out an email to a few of my friends I know are looking for this type of information. But I didn’t.

I made a burrito. I took some pictures of each step with my phone. I put them into the SnapGuide app.

And then I posted it out into the great unknown of cyberspace.

It’s been out there just a few days now. It’s been viewed about 450 times. It has 47 “Likes.” That’s 10%

And 10% appreciation from total strangers is more ubiquitous as a pat on the back than a red 100% written by a single teacher.

So here are the key questions. How are you doing assessment with your kids? Is it authentic? Is it real world? Does it utilize the tools they know? Does it allow for creative thought and planning? Who is doing the grading? Who is reading their work?

Like or not Like…that IS the question.

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Posted from my iPhone. I apologize for any misspellings or faulty formatting.

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Apr-10-2013

Taking Assessment to the Next Level

Posted by Tim under Assessment, Personal

I have always been a good test taker.  Even in high school I understood that I could make a B on a test without studying, and if it required study, then an A was over rated.  My 11th grade English teacher told my parents that I didn’t even have to read the novels or short stories to pass the tests.  Putting me in a higher level set of classes only confirmed my suspicions.

I’m a good test taker.

I remember once in college I was taking a class covering a couple of New Testament books.  I want to say they were Galatians and Ephesians, but my memory is not too clear from those days when I was taking a full load and working 3 part-time jobs to support a family and get an education in order to better support a family.

Anyway, our tests consisted of 5 or 6 essay questions written painstakingly across the chalk board by our instructor, a first-year professor whom I had in another class when he was a student doing graduate assistant work.  Nice guy.  Our job was to choose 3 or 4 of those questions (again, details are a bit blurry here).  We would spend an entire class period frantically filling up blue essay booklets with our understanding of the material.

This professor’s modus operandi was to have individual students who had scored very well on a question read their answers in class as an example to us all of what he was looking for.  So, you can imagine my feelings of honor and accolade when, after the third exam, i was asked to read an answer to a question for which I got the full 10 points possible.  I spoke clearly and succinctly.  That part I do remember.  I wanted everyone to really understand the gist of my greatness.

When I was done, and I will never forget this, the professor said these words, “Class, the reason I asked Mr. Childers to read his response today is that his answer was totally and completely wrong.  But he argued his point so well I could not help but give him full credit.”

I remember at the time I felt quite deflated.  My ego was bruised.  My head hurt from being swollen to such large proportions and then suddenly exploded like a balloon just stuck with a very sharp needle.

Later, I realized I was just good at taking tests.  I could offer up bull with the best of them.  My language skills were above average (although written work is far superior to spoken).

Those kinds of tests are much better, in my opinion, than the “I Choose C” assessments we so often give.  And, as I’ve begun observing teachers in classrooms this year, I’ve been more than pleasantly surprised to see extremely deep thinking and problem-solving questions posed to our high school students.  They still take multiple choice tests, but there are questions that require a much deeper level of thinking.

Thinking about all of these things on the drive home last night (an hour and a half is a dangerously long time to let me sit and think), I realized there were questions I would really like to see on tests.  Here are a few that crossed my mind:

  • It is said that pizza is the perfect food (OK, I said it, but I’m writing the question, and that’s all that counts).  Think about your favorite pizza (if you don’t have one, imagine that you do).  In a brief essay describe how your favorite pizza can be used as a metaphor for world peace.
  • We have a multitude of fried foods.  Fried Chicken, fried shrimp, fried fish, fried butter, fried Snickers bars, and more.  Think about a food you would like to try deep fried.  In a brief essay of 250 words or less, outline why this would be your favorite fried food, describe its preparation, list the production costs, show your plans to market it and make a profit, include all caloric information, and explain why this food should be allowed to be served during school lunches.
  • Starbucks.  Why or why not?
  • Read chapter 22 in your text book.  Write one easy, one moderate, and one difficult multiple choice question from the chapter (use the guidelines we handed out in class for question difficulty).  In addition, write one short answer question that would require students to analyze, deconstruct, and reconstruct the information in a section from the chapter in a way that requires them to give an opinion with information from the chapter as evidence for why they chose that opinion.  We will use at least one of your questions in the class assessment for the chapter.

I don’t know about you, but I think that would be taking assessment to the next level.

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As I was driving down the road looking for the next great camera angle, it hit me.  Photography is really just a metaphor for how we teach.  And, quite possibly, should be a metaphor for how we assess.

Like our new curriculum model (love it? hate it? couldn’t care less about it?), there are some “common core” ideas one must learn and understand if he or she is going to take pictures.  While the list is not exhaustive, here are a few I’ve picked up along the way.

1. Understand your camera.  It doesn’t matter if you are shooting the latest and greatest Canon or Nikkon, an old polariod, film, a point-and-shoot, or your phone’s camera, you need to understand how it works.  What are its limitations?  How does it excel?  This leads us to point #2.

2. Read the manual.  My first trip to Knoxville for a Knoxville Area Photography Meetup I learned this one embarrassingly well.  I was shooting with a Canon Rebel, and I was already in way over my head.  “Do you shoot in manual mode?” I was asked.  Well…..uh…..no.  “Have you read your manual?”  I didn’t have one.  It turns out that every camera is just different enough that even the most seasoned photographers will need to read up on the manual if they change cameras.  The learning process is never done.  So, I did what any self-respecting technology geek would do, I used my phone’s Internet browser to search for and download the manual to my camera.  And I started reading instead of taking pictures.

3. Understand the basics of how a camera works.  This is different than the previous point.  By this I mean you need to understand things like focus length, aperture settings, ISO, and what all those little cute dials on the top and sides of your camera do.  I still get confused at times.  I know that as the space in which you are shooting gets darker, the ISO number should get larger (we’ll talk about tripods later).  So it is counter intuitive for the aperture to be the opposite.  To “shoot wide open” (meaning you are letting in as much light as possible to your lens), you crank the aperture number down to its smallest possible range.  The smaller the aperture number (which actually means a larger aperture opening), the faster the camera will take the picture and your images won’t be so blurred (we’ll talk about bokeh later).  I get this wrong all…the…time.  There’s more, but you get the point.

4. Understand the basics of composition.  The very first thing I learned about taking better (or to my mind, more interesting) photographs was the rule of thirds.  In the rule of thirds you imagine a tic-tac-toe board drawn across your screen.  Horizon lines either go on the top or bottom horizontal lines.  People or other objects of interest go on either of the vertical lines.  Faces go where the horizontal and vertical lines intersect.   Of course, at times breaking the rule of thirds makes the picture even better, so maybe we should call it the “suggestion of thirds.”  There is more, but you get my point.

Up until this point, we can assess a person’s knowledge of photography with a bubble sheet style multiple choice assessment.

Which of the following is not true:

  1. The larger the ISO number the faster your shutter will open and close
  2. The larger your Aperture number the faster your shutter will open and close
  3. The smaller your Aperture number the faster your shutter will open and close
  4. None of the above

Not rocket science.  But, the same cannot be said once we move away from the basics.  Notice the verb change…

5. Explore your creative side in composition.  People compose photographs differently.  They see angles differently.  We can’t all be expected to take the exact same shot that everyone else takes.  Using your camera at eye level will give you a much different shot than if you get down on your stomach and shoot from ground level.  Or climb a ladder to shoot from sky level.  Use different camera settings to get different results.  For example, I love to slow my shutter speed down as far as possible (take take longer exposures) and shoot rivers and waterfalls.  The water turns to silk as its movement is blurred over time, but the rocks and trees stay in sharp focus.

6. Explore your creative side in post-processing.  People say to me all the time, “Tim, your pictures are so vibrant.  Mine never look like that.”  Mind don’t either.  I make them look like that.  I used HDR techniques for a bit (High Dynamic Range) where you take 3 or 5 of the exact same picture but exposed as dark, medium, and light, and then combine them in a software program like Photomatix to analyze the best pixels in each picture and create one really eye-popping, jaw-dropping photograph.  Or, at least, that’s the plan.  I’ve moved from HDR to Tonemapping.  I let Photomatix do sort of the same process on one picture to bring out the best highlights.  iPhoto does a great job of changing color saturation, shadows, adding blurred edges, and more.  Make the picture you like.

7. On phone cameras, explore the app store.  Yes, this one could cost you some money.  I now have 15 different camera apps on my iPhone and 23 different apps for editing.  I also have 7 apps for taking different videos and several more for processing videos.  I hardly ever post a picture from my phone that I haven’t taken  through the Snapseed app.  Others I like to “grunge” up a bit just for fun.  Some people like them.  Others don’t.  But I am demonstrating a skill that cannot be bubble sheet tested.

As teachers, we know we can’t test everything a student knows with multiple choice questions.  We can assess the basics.  But to stretch students into being creative creatures, we need to learn different assessment techniques.  We need to move away from “you didn’t make this look exactly like mine,” to “I see you are mastering this concept.”

I believe photography is making me a better teacher.  I know it is making me a better student.

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This morning I got in the car at the Starbucks on Sand Lake Road in Orlando, FL and set my GPS Navigation system to see how well it did to show me the way home.  It was about 6 AM.  By the time I got on the road, it had estimated my arrival time to be 3:15.  Not bad.

As I drove across the Florida Parkway toward Interstate 75, I noticed that the estimated time of arrival kept decreasing.  When I made my first stop some 3 hours after starting, the arrival time was down to 2:20.  I had cut nearly an hour off my expected time!

Immediately my mind made the leap to TVAAS and using the gain in time as a method of evaluating my effectiveness as a driver.  (Who wouldn’t, right?).

In education, Value Added is a statistical attempt to demonstrate the impact a teacher has on a student’s learning over the course of the year.  A number of variables are taken into account in order to compensate for them (age, sex, socio-economic status, last year’s test results, etc).  The idea is, that any improvement demonstrated by TVAAS is directly correlated to the impact of the teacher.  So, if the student does what was “expected” by the model, that scores a ZERO (as a baseline).  If the student does better than the model predicted, the teacher gets a positive number.  Likewise, if the student scores less than predicted the teacher gets a negative number.  And these numbers are part of what is used to determine if the teacher is effective or not.

No pressure, right?

So, I thought that if I arrived BEFORE my predicted time, that should be a positive number directly related to the driver.  If I arrived LATER THAN my predicted time, then that would be a negative for me.

Positive : Effective.  Negative : Ineffective.

But then it hit me.  In order to arrive early, I would have to give up a couple of fun things I planned to do as part of my trip.  I had planned on stopping at High Falls State Park and taking some pictures of the waterfalls.  I also planned on stopping in Atlanta for lunch.  Those things would bump my arrival time later than the prediction.

So I had a choice.  I could concentrate solely on the numbers and making sure I was “effective” as a driver.  This would mean limiting stops to bathroom breaks and pumping gas.  I would have to scout out locations for both that were easily accessible from the highway to limit my downtime away from the car.  Driving from point A to point B would be the only thing I had time to do!

Or… (and this is huge)… I could choose to both drive from point A to point B AND add my own value to the drive.  I needed the rest I would get from walking around at the park.  It was actually better for my own health to do so.  And, I could find a place to eat that would expand my horizons, get me out of my own little world, and make me a more complete person in the process.

Teachers are faced with this choice every day.  Because TCAP is so important for rating schools, students, and now teachers, it is the end-all of education.  We don’t have time for cultural diversity.  We don’t have time for field trips.  We don’t have time for visiting speakers.  We have these standards to cover.  We have to test the kids to see if they are ready for the test.  Point A to Point B.  That’s it.

But what if I chose the second option in my classroom?  What if I chose to be less concerned with TVAAS and more concerned about creating a well-rounded individual who would be prepared to go out into the world upon graduation?  What if I did emphasize those field trips?  What if I did attempt to expand cultural horizons?  Would I be willing to be considered professionally less effective in order to be individually more effective?

These are the thoughts that went through my mind as I wandered through the woods of the state park.  I thought about them again as I enjoyed lunch at one of my favorite places in Atlanta (the OK Cafe, in case you were wondering).  I chose Plan B.

I arrived at home at 3:55.  Some 40 minutes later than the test data should I should have.

I guess I have to be considered an ineffective driver.

But I was able to put joy back into the journey.  And that, as they say, is that.

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As you know by now, I’m on my 2nd round of HCG injections to help lose weight.  With the advice of the nurse at my clinic, I stopped taking HCG on the Friday before Thanksgiving.  I was told to eat sensibly leading up to Thanksgiving (OK, I forgot that part and ate everything I wanted).  Then, I started HCG injections again on Thanksgiving Day and used Thursday and Friday as new “load” days to stock up on calories and get ready for some final days of weight loss over the next 2 weeks.

I gained about 5 pounds in one week.  It wasn’t pretty.  I wasn’t happy.  I wasn’t proud of myself.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved the food!  I ate without guilt knowing I would be back on track in a few days.

I’ve been back on 500 calories a day now for 3 full days and I’ve lost the 5 pounds I gained plus another pound and a half.  I weigh less today than I have weighed in nearly 8 years.

Every day I wake up and weigh.  Every day I look at that small weight loss (I consider it a gain in the goal book).  Every day I commit to 500 calories that day.  A pound of weight loss overnight is enough to give me big motivation to keep going.  It is a little positive reinforcement in the midst of something that isn’t that fun or enjoyable (but necessary).

This morning as I thought about looking down at that scale and seeing 202 and the feeling of elation that came with it I was reminded of helping kids in our computer labs a couple of years ago as they struggled to write better essays in preparation for the 8th Grade Writing Assessment.

Most of them hated those practice essays.  But this year was different.  We were piloting some software that would automatically grade essays and offer feedback.  As students revised, scores changed and charts were produced.  We had them type their essays into Word and then copy and paste them into the program.  They looked at the results with sullen eyes.  Their score was uninspiring.

Then we told them to change one thing.  In some cases we had them add a quote.  In others, we asked them to add a simile (comparing two things using like or as).  They dutifully added one sentence, saved their work, and re-scored it.  In most cases, their scores went up a full point.  Suddenly their eyes got big.  Their mouths dropped open.  Over and over we heard the same question, “Is it really that simple?”

Yep.

Small changes.  Big motivation.

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